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On the Beat: Long drive home from Florida was full of signs for BenFred

On the Beat: Long drive home from Florida was full of signs for BenFred


The route from Florida to STL

ON THE ROAD — Parents and children let one another in on life's little lies as time passes.

A few years ago, I explained to my mom how I pulled off throwing a party at our house while in high school. The secret, of course, is photographing the house beforehand. That way you can get everything back the way it was, down to angle of the magazines on the coffee table.

Maybe I told that one too soon.

Anyway, my family kept a little secret from me, one no one told me about until just a few years ago.

It had to do with family road trips.

My mom, dad and sister spent good chunks of our vacations distracting me from billboards for roadside attractions.

“Look at that cloud!” one would say while pointing to the left of Dad’s Suburban.

A sign for the World’s Tallest Prairie Dog would fly by on the right.

I liked roadside attractions, OK? Still do. But back then, if I saw one, I wanted to go. Like, now.

Problem was, stopping to see every over-sized rocking chair and three-headed turtle on the way to a ski trip or week at the beach wasn't conducive to reaching the slopes or the sand on time.

I found myself thinking about that story Tuesday as I made the 16-something hour drive home from Jupiter, Fla. The coronavirus pandemic had benched Cardinals baseball for the foreseeable future. It also made a 16-something hour drive seem more appealing than setting foot in an airport.

Hey, at least I’d see some cool signs.

The Post-Dispatch has been running a behind-the-scenes look from our writers called, “On the Beat.”

I don’t know if this counts, but here’s what was running through my mind on the road ...

• Google tells me America is the proud owner of 664 Cracker Barrels. I think I saw 660 of them during a drive that touched Florida, Georgia, Tennessee, Kentucky and Illinois.

• How have the politicians in Florida and Georgia not yet joined forces to present the world’s worst country act, Florida Georgia Line, with a cease and desist?

• If I ever get to retire, I think I will retire to Ashburn, Georgia. Where else can you find an RV Park, a fireworks stand, a Waffle House and a Zaxby’s within a stone’s throw of an exit ramp? Plus, Ashburn had hand sanitizer at its gas station pumps. Take that, coronavirus. What a lovely place, Ashburn.

• I feel bad for those of you who have never known the joy of hot, fresh Cook Out hush puppies.

• My truck is old. Not complaining. Runs fine. But I’m reminded of its age every time I drive a rental car. New cars tell you when you are drifting lanes without signaling. They tell you when someone slams on the brakes up ahead. They tell you when you’re tired, when you’re getting close to running out of gas, where you’re going and when you’re going to get there. And still roughly 85 percent of highway drivers refuse to use the perk that has been there all along — cruise control.

• Does anyone else think of that scene – you know the one – in ‘Final Destination 2’ every time they get stuck behind a semi strapped down with logs? For the record, I showed some remarkable reflexes while dodging an empty cardboard box near Centreville, Ga. Head-hunting timber was not encountered.

• The Braves claiming Atlanta while playing baseball at their new stadium near Marietta is kind of like those fraternity guys at Mizzou who said they were from Chicago, but really lived in Buffalo Grove.

• More states should follow Georgia’s lead when it comes to naming roads. Georgia has Red Top Mountain Road, Old Coffee Road, Appalachian Foothills Parkway, Farmers Market Road and plenty of other places where road rage sounds impossible.

• I will visit The Sasquatch Museum in Blue Ridge, Ga., one day. I promise you that. Do Big Feet — that's the plural of Big Foot, right? — have The Human Museum? We'll never get a clear picture of it if they do.

• God bless the good folks of Chattanooga, Tenn., but if I’m going camping, it won’t be at a place named Raccoon Mountain Campground. I can get raccoons digging through my trash here at home, thank you very much.

• Remember when a night's hotel stay in Nashville used to cost less than your mortgage? Not your monthly mortgage payment, either. The entire thing.

• I encountered the ugliest color a car could ever come in. It’s right here. Jeep calls it, "Hyper Green." What a world. It looked like a booger on wheels.

• This is not confirmed, but I do think highway patrolmen are easing up on speeding tickets due to their disinterest in encountering coronavirus. If they weren’t, Post-Dispatch colleague Derrick Goold would be paying a stiff fine. Lead Foot Goold, driving a rented Mustang, beat me home. He had not finished packing when I left.

• Thanks to everyone who recommended a song for my driving playlist. You all helped me discover The Wild Feathers, Gethen Jenkins and The Screamin’ Cheetah Wheelies. Yes, The Screamin’ Cheetah Wheelies.

• The best view of the drive arrived as the sun was coming down, and two fishermen on the Tennessee river made the day's final casts in to water that looked like glass. Even during America's great moments of stress, she remains a breathtaking beauty.

• Best Billboard, Coronavirus Edition: “Large, Clean Restrooms.”

• Best Billboards, Best of Show: This one goes to the Florida Citrus Center.

“Live Baby Gators,” said one sign.

“Gator Heads and Wind Chimes,” said another.

“13 Foot Gator,” said another.

Let's just say Dad's Suburban would have stopped there.

• Read about retail stores in the region that are cutting hours or closing due to the coronavirus.

• Read the list of area restaurants that are closing, switching to carryout or otherwise adjusting due to the coronavirus.

• Area events canceled or postponed

• Read the list of canceled sports events.

• COVID-19 cases in Missouri by county

• COVID-19 cases in the United States

• CDC fact sheet: Prevention and treatment

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